Rock the Vote

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Amid heightened violence and political turmoil, Afghans are preparing for the country's April 5 presidential and local council elections. Voters will be choosing the successor of President Hamid Karzai, who is barred from seeking a third term by the Afghan constitution.

It will be the third election held since the Taliban's fall in 2001, and the group has pledged to disrupt voting and punish those who participate. In the past three weeks the Taliban has opened fire on a hotel restaurant in Kabul killing nine, executed a Swedish journalist (who was there to cover, among other things, the elections), and kidnapped and shot dead a local council candidate along with nine of his supporters. And on April 2, a suicide bomber blew himself up at the entrance of the Afghan Interior Ministry, killing six police officers. In response to this spate of bloody attacks, additional security measures are being put into place. According to Reuters, more than "380,000 army, police and international forces will be working to secure the elections."

Despite the unrest, campaigning efforts have remained robust, with candidates holding multiple rallies attracting large crowds across the country; millions of Afghans are tuning in to watch the presidential debates on television. Voter registration has been high, and Afghan experts estimate the election day turnout to be between 60-70 percent. As 29-year-old Abdul Ghafoor Raheemi from Kandahar -- who had been too afraid of the violence to vote in the last election -- told the Associated Press, "I am really willing to use my right to vote this time. ... It seems everyone is willing to vote and participate in forming a new government."

Above, an Afghan man watches the crowd supporting presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah during a campaign rally at a stadium in the northwestern city of Herat on April 1. 

BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images

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Afghan supporters of presidential candidate and former World Bank economist Ashraf Ghani stand under a national flag as they attend his campaign rally in Herat on March 30.

BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images

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An Afghan policeman stands guard at a square in the northwestern city of Herat on March 31.

BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images

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People walk past a presidential campaign poster of Abdullah Abdullah and posters for candidates running in provincial council elections in Herat on March 29.

BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images

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An Afghan woman takes a photograph with her cell phone as she and other supporters attend an election rally for Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah in Jalalabad on Feb. 18.  

SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images

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Three Afghan workers clean chairs prior to the arrival of presidential candidate Zalmai Rassoul who is making a campaign stop in Bazarak, the capital of Panjshir province, on March 28.

SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images

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A burqa-clad Afghan woman poses with her voter identification card at a registration center in Ghazni province on March 27.

RAHMATULLAH ALIZADA/AFP/Getty Images

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Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah waves to a crowd of supporters as he arrives for a political rally in Dashtak, Afghanistan, on March 31. Eight presidential candidates are running in the April 5 election, with a second round run-off between the two leading contenders expected in late May.

WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images

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An Afghan policewoman searches a burqa-clad woman at a voter registration center in Herat province on February 26.

Aref Karimi/AFP/Getty Images

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Afghan supporters stand under political posters bearing the image of presidential candidate Gul Agha Sherzai during a political rally attended by Sherzai in Mazar-i-Sharif on March 30.

FARSHAD USYAN/AFP/Getty Images

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An Afghan election employee photographs a resident to issue his voter card for the upcoming presidential election at a voter registration center in the city of Herat on March 31.

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Afghans try to catch distributed sandwiches during the electoral campaign of presidential candidate and former World Bank economist Ashraf Ghani in the northwestern city of Herat on March 30.

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An Afghan supporter of presidential candidate and former World Bank economist Ashraf Ghani waves a national flag at a campaign rally in Herat on March 30. 

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Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers -- members of the medical staff at Camp Maiwand, near Pul-i-Alam in Logar province -- prepare the emergency room on April 2 in the event they receive mass casualties due to election-day violence. Security is heightened throughout Afghanistan as the nation prepares for its April 5 elections.

Scott Olson/Getty Images

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Afghan supporters of presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani listen to his speech during a campaign rally in the city of Herat on March 30.

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Supporters of Ashraf Ghani hold posters bearing his image during a campaign rally in the city of Herat on March 30.

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Afghan residents line up to register for their voter cards in Herat on March 31.

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An Afghan National Army soldier prays during a full moon as he and other members of his company camp out for the night during an operation in Khogyani District on March 18. The men of the Afghan army's fourth infantry brigade have been tasked with clearing the Taliban from Khogyani and Sherzad districts of the restive Nangarhar province, ahead of the first round of the presidential elections.

ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP/Getty Images

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